November 19 was World Toilet Day! I was notified of this from my friends at Water Partners: “We celebrate World Toilet Day and the incredible value of the can.

Call it what you will – the pot, the loo, the throne, the latrine, the water closet, the bog, or here in Kenya – the choo. It’s one of the most important inventions in history. Why recognize World Toilet Day? Because the majority of illness in the world is caused by fecal matter. Because 2.5 billion people, 42 percent of the world’s population, don’t have access to proper sanitation. Because 1.2 billion people have no toilet, no hole in the ground, no pit latrine, nothing. And because 1.8 million children die each year from diarrhea alone 4,900 deaths each day.”

These staggering statistics are part of my motivation for being here in Kenya. In the developed world it sounds silly to celebrate our toilets; we flush and don’t give it another thought. But here in Kuria, a few people have ventilated pit latrines, some have a hole in the ground and many have nothing at all. No toilets mean that feces ends up in drinking water and on dinner plates, and adults and children end up with nasty illnesses like typhoid, amoebiasis and diarrhea. Of the 40 drinking water collection points (springs and streams) I’ve visited here, I’ve gotten reports of people getting sick from drinking the water at 70% of those locations. 70%!

In the developed world we leave it up to wastewater treatment plants to deal with our flushes and to clean our drinking water, but in Kuria these matters are dealt with at the household level. Good hygiene and knowledge about safe drinking water are matters of life and death. Simple practices like washing hands with soap and water at critical times and boiling drinking water can dramatically reduce disease. UNICEF says using soap to wash hands, particularly after contact with excreta, can reduce diarrhoeal diseases by over 40% and respiratory infections by 30%. Those statistics excite me and give me hope.

I’m delighted to report that today we completed a 3-day training for 30 water/sanitation representatives, who are now community experts! I trained up Lucas and he taught each class using colorful posters developed by the Center for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology. They do great work and provide water/sanitation training aids free of charge! We were even able to get the posters with Kiswahili text, which the reps really appreciated. I included the English language version of one of my favorites above. These 30 wat/san reps are now fully equipped to train their families and neighbors in basic hygiene and household water treatment practices.  I’ve already heard stories of reps teaching their children what they learned in class. After the reps give their families and their Nuru groups the water/sanitation training, about 1,800 people will be reached with these disease-preventing, life-saving messages. Now that’s what I call a World Toilet Day celebration!